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Judaism Be Wise : Let Bearded Orthodox Rabbi Menachem Stern Serve


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Be wise: Let bearded orthodox Rabbi Menachem Stern serve

An orthodox Jewish rabbi is suing the Army to serve as a chaplain without having to shave off his beard. Beards are banned by Army regulations; having one is required by orthodox Jewish law.

The Army says Rabbi Menachem Stern is welcome to join — given the shortage of Jewish chaplains — but first, the beard must go.

In his lawsuit, Stern points out the Army gave waivers last year to allow three Sikhs to wear beards and turbans while on active duty. The lawsuit also notes that a Muslim soldier was allowed to keep his beard.

So, why not a rabbi?

Stern says the Army indicated he might be granted a waiver — but only if he shaves off his beard to enter the service, arguing that waivers are only available to those who are already soldiers.

That’s a ridiculous suggestion from the same Army that issued waivers to convicted felons when it was struggling to meet recruitment goals. The cons got their waivers before taking the oath.

There are more than 100 religions represented in the Army ranks, including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Wiccans. Many have special grooming or clothing standards that conflict with Army regulations.

When the Army cleared the Sikhs to serve, it seemed the service was acknowledging the new multicultural age emerging in this country, in which diverse religious practices and cultural customs are being more widely assimilated into the workplace.

Wherever Army leadership can allow soldiers to adhere to such practices and customs without conflicting with safety, the mission, or good order and discipline, it should do so. That would better reflect the larger society the Army serves.


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